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Ody's Country Meats

End of the Season


Sun, Oct 8th, 2000
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By Virginia CooperMonday, October 2, 2000

It’s been a great gardening year, a little wet for a while, but still quite beautiful when we count our successes and not our failures. This is my last column for the season. I hope everyone has learned something new this year. In every article I have tried to stress the importance of fertile soil as being the key to a healthy garden.

Fertile Soil

Fertile soil is a soil rich in organic matter or humus. Humus is basically the same thing as compost, broken down organic material. This organic material can be anything from raked leaves, straw, pulled weeds, kitchen waste like your coffee grounds, egg shells or potato peelings. If it comes from the plant kingdom it can be composted. Some serious composters will even seek out commercial sources like the leftover corn waste from ethanol production. But in order for this organic material to be available to your plants it must be composted.

Making Compost

This can be as simple as just having a pile in the corner of your garden where you throw pulled weeds, spent plants and the occasional kitchen scraps. It can be a bin of some sort to help keep the pile from spreading out all over or a fancy thing from a garden catalog. You can build a pile all at once or add a little at a time all year.

My grandfather always had three piles going. Three bins lined up made of scrap wood. One was for woody scraps, as they take longer to decompose, and the other two were non-woody materials, one was currently being added to and the other was full and cooking.

It is important that your pile be made up of a variety of materials, ideally a mix of ‘greens and browns.’ Moisten the materials as they are placed into the pile or bin. Oxygen and water are critical elements in the composting process. Research suggests adding soil or compost starters is not essential, as the organic matter naturally contains the decomposing bacteria. Avoid over chopping composting materials or packing of the pile, which restricts oxygen infiltration. Active compost will heat to 120 to 160 degrees in the center of the pile. This desired heat stimulates the bacterial process and helps sanitize the interior of the pile. In Minnesota, avoid turning compost piles in the fall. This allows valuable heat to escape, and may stop the processing as we move into the cold winter. Small piles, which freeze in the winter, may need turning in the spring to start the pile processing again.

Compost is ready to use when it has shrunk to one-half its original volume, has lost the identity of the original material and has a pleasant earthy smell. The important thing is to use it. Every time you plant a new plant, or prepare a seedbed make it a routine to add a few shovelfuls of compost. It also works really well to use it as a mulch in garden beds, both keeping down weeds, and improving soil every time you cultivate. When it rains, the nutrients are brought right to the roots where they are needed.

Fall Tips
•Rake fallen leaves and cover perennial plants with straw mulch.
•Note where diseased plants were and plan for crop rotation next year.
•Mark diseased trees or branches to be pruned during the dormant season.

Virginia Cooper gardens and waits for winter from her farm in Mabel. She can be reached at the Extension office at (507) 765-3896, or via email: virgcoop@yahoo.com

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